There is a saying that if you want to know your past look into your present conditions; if you want to know your future, look into your present actions.Unless history is recalled for reflection, for assessment, for renewal, for inspiration,for planning the future, it is possible that this country would continue to pursue policies that continue to hinder our economic growth.
Achieving prosperity depends on solving basic political problems. The UGCC was founded, in part, upon a commitment to the notion that man could flourish if governed well in a pluralist society and allowed freedom to pursue individual goals. No one now remembers and stands up for this foundational value. Ghana suffers from good ideas, which lead to laziness that lead to tyranny. Ghanaians today are buying into the same mind-set as evidenced by electing leaders who believe people are too stupid, selfish, greedy, and reckless to make economic decisions for themselves.
The Ghanaian way — independence, entrepreneurialism, liberty — took a devastating blow soon after independence, and has been under assault for decades. The cultural foundations of Ghana and its institutions were put along the line of some futuristic apocalyptic ideal, producing social, moral, and economic rot that leads only to chaos and ruin. Attacks on individuality, freedom and personal responsibility for most of our independence have resulted, in a gradual degradation of the people and the descent into suppression of a once-free people.
The economic decline that soon set in this country after independence from the colonialists was caused by the attempt to stifle freedom, liberty, and policies that made the central government the leading operator in the Ghanaian economy, with the development of state owned industries, which turned out to be inefficient. The endless stream of irrational economic policies was not because of ignorance. Of course, the declaration of the one party state dealt a devastating blow to individual initiative, closed the market and opened the doors for cronyism to thrive.
Increasingly, Ghanaians find themselves victims of exorbitant tariffs, torturous regulations, massive incentive-sapping welfare system, a huge public debt, chronic budget deficits, and rising inflation. The central government continues to interfere in the economy. The only things that continue to grow are unemployment, taxes, and government spending. This was the “democratic socialism” that Nkrumah and his supporters admire, but which history has shown to be a national calamity.
Instead of progress, all we are left with are failed state policies, which most Ghanaians one talk with, no matter their political bias, find truly tiresome. Many of those who can see through the word games are relieved, of course. Ghanaian politicians, especially those who profess centre-right ideas, have woefully failed to deal with the profound contradiction between local capitalism, international capitalism and its constituents ‘by talking right but acting left’.
The truth is that most politicians are really not fit for purpose. They are political hatchet men presiding over a rent taking Ponzi scheme of high levels of corrupt government bureaucracy, fed by higher taxes, various price controls through state controlled marketing boards and agencies, restrictive minimum wage laws that contribute to unnecessary restrictions placed on SMEs, preventing them from being greater job creators than they currently are.
Our experiences so far show that the main obstacle to our development is the adoption of policies that encourage politicised rent taking. This combined with inefficient boards, tender rigging in favour of cronies, project delays and lack of property rights have resulted in inadequate service delivery and robbed the country of billions in opportunity costs. Deficit spending and money creation through the central bank takes place covertly and the subsequent inflation extract wealth from the already burdened poor.
Joseph Boakye Danquah and his UGCC would be surprised. Their solution was removing the economic roadblocks that inhibit localities and people from creating their own wealth through productive work. Throughout his life, he argued for a direct relationship between a strong property rights, individual initiative, and the rule of law as the keys to democracy and economic prosperity for which he was ridiculed and jailed. However, events in the 21st century prove that he was right.
The most frustrating aspects of our current political environment is the absence of conservative political leaders who speak to our longstanding individualistic traditional culture. Ironically, the present day free market ideology in Ghana is nowhere close to the genetic code of the UGCC, the NLM and the UP. Now it seems the NPP, the latest in the lineage, faces an ideological conflict. The party, unfortunately — including the conservative establishment and the churches—are tainted by fakes, fraudsters, and know-nothings. We watch while politicians take far too much of our liberties, and now we are paying for it with our freedoms.
Sadly, the triumph of progressive populism in Ghana has left the remnants of the UGCC marooned, confused, uncertain and depressed. Observers will already be familiar with the convergence of policies between the two major parties in the country, and seeing them struggle between two fundamentally conflicting policy objectives in our planning system — the desire for more government control versus the recognition that the private sector holds the key to economic development. To solve our development riddle successive Governments have resorted not to one clean stroke of the sword of reform but to a thousand strokes of paint, adding layers upon layers of complexity, conflict and confusion.
Year after year freedom, diversity, local and individual responsibility have given way to regimentation, conformity and subservience to central power. And year after year, many have watched leaders across the divide resort to task forces and fear-based regulations in an attempt to bandage poverty concerns in the towns and villages.
Let us fast forward to the beginning and discover that Danquah’s development in freedom seriously means putting the focus on economic freedom, which provides the only path for the poor to escape poverty. Economic freedom restrain discretion in monetary policy and limit both the scope and scale of how resources should not be transferred to politically powerful elites in the urban areas.
Our short history shows — and in stark, shocking terms — the desperation, pain and atrocity caused by our leaders and governments because they pursued exclusive political environment and unsustainable expansionary economic policies and made choices that create poverty rather than prosperity. Our regimes seem like caricatures of evil, and the men who lead them and their policies, hold important lessons for us. They show us what we must not do.
Danquah believed in a free market, in a free inclusive society,where every piece of land, every hut or modern building and every property of the individual would be recognised and connected to the national economy. Yet, several years after independence, Ghana’s economy is not free and corruption very high undermining economic activity and prosperity. This country is poor because its leaders have failed to create a political environment conducive to economic growth.
On this 75th anniversary of the UGCC,we should remember the admonition against extractive political and economic institutions that always become impediments to economic growth. We should renew our commitment to the ideals of freedom and fight for the consolidation of a pluralistic democracy. It was for this reason that Danquah and his colleagues were dubbed CIA agents. They were not. They were patriots seeking independence, not dependence. Our duty as patriots is to make sure those who control power do not use that power to limit competition, to steal and loot from citizens.
We must defend Property rights, the rule of law and the dignity of the individual person and the inalienable rights bestowed upon him by his creator. Economic freedom helps because it creates the rules by which competition, not coercion nor political affiliation, coordinates the economic activity of diverse millions of people. That is the truth.We must choose that future.
By Kwadwo Afari